Thursday, May 24, 2012

Media Justice & Privacy? May They Exist?

cross posted from my media justice column

What does it mean to you to have privacy? Is it that your medical provider, if you have access to one, will not share your information with your community? That your parents and family members don’t go searching through your things? That your partner will not look through your emails or cell phone when you are not around? Do these ideas of privacy change when you are online? Are your ideas of privacy different when it comes to celebrities?

For the past 2 weeks there has been a focus on outing two well known Black women: Queen Latifah and Raven-SymonĂ©. l I may be “preaching to the choir” when I remind folks that it is never ever our or someone else’s place to out someone. Outing someone is taking that person’s self-determination away. It is putting the belief and value system one person has onto another who may not hold the same values. I know a lot of research and individual testimonios tells us that folks who come “out” regarding sexual orientation, gender, HIV and STI status, relationship or parenting status, etc. experience a form of liberation. We also have a host of quotes about how our silence “will not protect us” and many folks connect this to outing others or shaming others to come out when they are not ready.

Liberation may be connected to speaking out for some and it may not be for others. Speaking out is not something we can define for other people. It is something we may define for ourselves and act and move in the world accordingly. Many folks have different ideas about what liberation means, looks, and feels like and some may disagree. There are times when safety and self-determination must take priority. If we are about ending oppressions for all people, creating a community and world where we realize our diversity (for lack of a better word) is a strength and not a weakness, than we must also recognize the forms of oppression we create and are a part of and how removing privacy is one of those things.

Women of Color’s bodies are always on display in various ways. The messages this sends is that folks have the right and privilege to speak on, examine, watch, and follow us. We are socialized into thinking this is okay because it is “normal” to do without really examining what it does to women and girls of Color. And when we speak on and up about our privacy, about this hyper-visibility and display we are not taken seriously, ignored, erased, and targeted for other forms of violence (i.e. name calling, defamation, threats, intimidation, and physical violence).

This is not the first post about these topics,  and if you do an internet search for privacy and women of Color you’ll find a lot of information about the privacy policies of websites centering, created by, and featuring women of Color. It seems the term “privacy” is not used for women of Color or by us to describe the ways we create boundaries for our own lives. This is telling.

I think the use of language is shifting in more ways than we realize.  If we cannot use the term “privacy” for our own lives, we use other terms, such as boundaries. This term is just one example and I’m sure there are plenty of others. Yet, the effort made to find new terms and apply to our lives tells us that our lives are ones that were always already public; meaning people had a right to comment on and critique us.

Living in “the future” as we called it two decades ago, where the internet is more than many had imagined, this idea of privacy is also changing. Is it possible to use social media, build community, and still remain to some extent private? Many folks know this may be possible using a pseudonym. For many of us, using a pseudonym is connected to our survival and ability to maintain community online and still maintain a level of privacy. It is a privilege to have our legal names attached to certain things we create and that are available online. I know all too well what it is like when folks target you and threaten your life and well being because of who you are and what you have created in a virtual space.

I’ve shared online before that I think working poor and working class people rarely have privacy in our society mainly because our society has been set up that way. When I first went to apply for unemployment 7 years ago, the long lines to wait in, the forms to fill out and the “talks” we were given were all in an open room with several other people packed into. It was the same situation when I applied for public assistance and food stamps. You had to bring in all the documentation you could to prove you were the right kind of poor (I wasn’t), stand in line, sit in crowded rooms, then when you spoke to someone to process your information it was in a room of cubicles where I could hear the testimonio of the older man behind me and that of the woman in the cubicle in front of me. I’m sure they heard more than they wanted to hear about me too.

I remember the time I went for an HIV test 5 years ago and chose anonymous testing at the nearby Department of Health. I had not ever done testing anonymously before and wanted to see how it was so I could have the knowledge to share with folks who I work with in HIV education and prevention. I was given a number and when called asked for demographic information (i.e. race, age, gender). When I was ready to have my sample taken by a medical provider the first thing the provider asks me is “what is your name” and I had to tell them that I was choosing to be testing anonymously. When the doctor came in (not sure why I had two different medical providers for such a quick test) they asked me why I chose to be tested anonymously, that I should know that I can’t be denied health insurance if that was a concern (in NYC). I shared that I didn’t have health insurance and reminded the doctor that it was my choice to take the test anonymously and that’s the best decision for me at this time.

Having to defend and remind folks that my privacy is my own was non-stop the entire time. Then hearing from folks that “if you write about your experiences online you are not being private.” They may also use those three stories as examples. How interesting that they think I can’t pick and chose what parts of my life to share. That making a choice to share parts of my life is part of the privacy and boundaries I value, and also part of the privilege I have and chose to use in a strategic way. Many of the personal stories I choose to share are connected to a larger form of conciousness-raising that I value. It’s also one way that I’ve learned to connect with others, help folks know they are not alone in certain experiences, and build community and find spaces for healing. You see when I share parts of my private life it is a choice I am making. It is my self-determination, my agency that I am using. When I chose not to share something that’s the same exercise of self-determination.

I hope that youth and folks online today recognize that they too have privacy and boundaries and they are to be respected. Perhaps privacy for you is having your Twitter or Facebook account locked, maybe it’s writing under a pseudonym, or having two different accounts for the different work you do. Whatever the choice your privacy and boundaries are your own, no one else’s. This is what we can also extend to the celebrities and famous folks in this world, especially those who are women of Color.

I encourage folks to look up and research Net Neutrality and all of the changes that are currently underway.  Understanding Net Neutrality is a part of our privacy, boundaries, safety and access online. 

No comments:

Post a Comment